What does it mean to be a Narcissist?

Akshaya Krishnan

Vedika Basu

Breaking bad is an American drama series starring Walter White, whom some people call a Narcissist. Walter is introduced as a teacher who yearns for a more exciting life. He soon gets into making and distributing methamphetamines, or meth, and is on the run from the law. As the show progresses, we find out how scheming he is and several other obsessive-compulsive traits. He is shown as arrogant, impulsive, and aggressive. These are the usual typical traits displayed by a Narcissist.

Narcissistic personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. However, behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Narcissists also tend to exaggerate their talents and accomplishments while downplaying those of others. They are usually preoccupied with power, success, and beauty. They might even engage in impulsive behaviours, such as risky sex and gambling. Some traits of NPD may appear similar to confidence. However, healthy confidence and NPD are not the same things. People who have healthy self-esteem are usually humble, while people with NPD seldom are. They tend to put themselves on a pedestal and perceive themselves as better than everyone else.

A general misconception:

Narcissism is a term commonly used to describe those who seem more concerned with themselves than with others. However, not all people with these traits have a personality disorder. While narcissistic traits may be familiar at times, such as during adolescence, this does not necessarily mean people will develop NPD. 

An official diagnosis can only be made by a qualified mental health professional and requires that the individual show impairments in personality functioning in various domains, including a grandiose sense of self-importance and interpersonal difficulties with attention-seeking and empathy. Estimates suggest that between 0.5% and 5% of adults in the U.S. have a narcissistic personality disorder.  NPD is more common among men than women.  Female narcissists utilize neglect or guilt as a form of control, whereas male narcissists are more likely to utilize power and status to control.

Additionally, people who are narcissists can often be very charming and charismatic. They often do not show negative behaviour right away. They often surround themselves with people who feed into their ego. They build relationships to reinforce ideas about themselves, even if these relationships are superficial.

Furthermore, there are two different types of Narcissism that narcissistic behaviour can fall under. The two types can have common traits but come from different childhood experiences. The two types also dictate the different ways people will behave in relationships.  Firstly, people with Grandiose Narcissism were most likely treated as if they were superior or above others during childhood. These expectations can follow them as they become adults. They tend to brag and be elitist. Those with grandiose Narcissism are aggressive, dominant, and exaggerate their importance. They are very self-confident and are not sensitive. Walter White is a confident/grandiose narcissist. He shows signs of sociopathy and is arrogant, impulsive and aggressive.

Secondly, Vulnerable Narcissism is usually the result of childhood neglect or abuse. People with this behaviour are much more sensitive. Narcissistic behaviour helps to protect them against feelings of inadequacy. Even though they feel inferior and superior to others, they feel offended or anxious when others do not treat them as unique.


Treatment for NPD usually consists of talk therapy. If NPD symptoms occur alongside depression or another mental health condition, then appropriate medications may be used to treat the other disorder. However, there are no medications to treat NPD. Another therapy used is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which aims to identify unhealthy, harmful beliefs and behaviours and replace them with healthful, positive ones.

Talk therapy can also show people how to improve their collaboration with peers, maintain their relationships, understand, and recognize their feelings, cope with self-esteem issues, and recognize their failures to cope with criticism better.  They must realize that therapy has their best interests, and it is crucial to help them grow.

It is also imperative to realize that even Walter could have attended therapy to work out his flaws. He had numerous occasions to get out of the criminal life, but he chose not to. Therapy only works when you accept your flaws and realize that things could be better, which Walter refused to do. We need to realize that the causes of these disorders are primarily biological and situational; we need to make people realize the benefits of therapy and what it can do. If Walter had learnt to accept his flaws early on, he would have coped with the symptoms better.